“I don’t doubt that there’s a chunk of folks out there who will lap it up,” said Democratic pollster Guy Molyneux, who specializes in studying opinions among the white working class. “But it struck me as too negative, too harsh to really broaden the appeal.”
With few of the rhetorical flourishes common to these addresses, and only glancing gestures toward unity, Trump echoed his major campaign themes to present himself as the champion of “the forgotten men and women of our country” against elites at home and abroad that he said had produced an “American carnage” with “factories scattered like tombstones” and cities reeling under “crime and gangs and drugs that have stolen too many lives.”
Ronald Reagan’s “shining city on a hill” it was not.
That unusually glum portrayal––a searing rebuke of the nation’s political leadership seated just behind him––echoed the tone of Trump’s most important campaign speeches. Once again, it showed Trump committed to framing his political movement as an uprising against a self-dealing domestic leadership class and a duplicitous world determined to take advantage of the U.S. both economically and militarily. “From this moment on,” Trump insisted, “it’s going to be America first.”
This insular and pugnacious vision fits Trump’s expressed desire to transform the GOP into a “worker’s party” centered on working class voters across racial lines. It also bears the clear imprint of his controversial White House counselor Stephen Bannon, the former Breitbart executive, who has talked about building a global movement of populist nationalist parties opposed to greater global economic and diplomatic integration.
But, after an election when Trump lost the popular vote by nearly three million, it’s unclear whether that vision can obtain majority public support in the U.S.––or even how much of the Republican Party can accept it, either in policy or political terms. The goals of Trump and Republican Congressional leaders overlap most clearly around issues of retrenching government: cutting taxes and spending, repealing the Affordable Care Act, and rolling back federal regulation, particularly those that restrain the development and use of fossil fuels. Action could come quickly on all of those fronts.
In other areas, though, the alliance is more tenuous between the priorities of most Republicans and the party’s core institutional allies, and the blue-collar populism Trump reaffirmed on Friday.
At home, his determination to spend more on infrastructure and to resist changes in the big entitlement programs for seniors grates against the instincts of conservative budget-cutters. Abroad, his skepticism about alliances––expressed again in a remarkable recent interview with European newspapers where he disparaged the European Union and NATO––and his determination to reach a new accommodation with Vladimir Putin finds virtually no support among mainstream GOP foreign policy thinkers. And his determination to raise tariffs against imports and to punish U.S. companies that shift investments abroad collides with both conservative free market orthodoxy and the direct self-interest of business groups long indispensable to the GOP coalition.